Friday, December 9, 2011

Post #110 - Re-Discovering Our Moral Influence

"Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness man's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world." (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

It has been said that “if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.” Frantz Fanon offered this most scathing denouncement of the hypocrisy and disingenousness of Western culture:

"Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet they murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their streets, in all corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost all of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration...That same Europe where they are never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind." (from The Wretched of the Earth, New York: 1965)

Shah's Palace, Tehran ~ now a museum
"The list of what we Americans have “fallen for” includes the overthrowing of sovereign governments, each instance of which has come back to haunt us in myriad ways; support for unsavory characters like the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Suharto of Indonesia and various right-wing dictators elsewhere; the soft-pedaling of human rights when it conflicted with profit-making or our vision of "security." Often, we the public has not immediately known what was happening, but sooner or later, we really should get the picture: Other Tolkien Gulf resolutions will be proposed, other Iran-Contra schemes will be hatched, other School of the Americas projects will turn sour. The U.S. Government opposes moves to resist the militarization of space, to ban use of landmines, to force compliance with our commitments under the NPT, and to reduce stockpiles of dangerous fissionable materials around the world (though the Obama administration has done more on this than its predecessors). It is time that we figured out what being Christians in a majority Christian country means in terms of responsibility and accountability – to our fellow citizens, to the world, and to God.

In 2003, Cardinal Pio Langhi, a former papal nuncio, was reported by the Vatican News Service as urging the United States to “stop” (in Iraq): "I think it has the strength to do so. It must reestablish respect for human beings and return to the family of nations, overcoming the temptation to act on its own. If it does not stop, the whirlwind of horror will involve other peoples and will lead us ever more to the abyss."

A delegation of American church leaders met with Prime Minister Tony Blair that same year in London; they said that their own country “was becoming a 'new Rome' in claiming a singular and preemptive moral authority to act in the world today, and that this was both bad theology and bad policy.” (reported by delegate Jim Wallis, in his God's Politics). Wallis himself notes: "History teaches that domination can make good people do bad things. The British did horrible things in Northern Ireland, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Vietnam. Brutality is inevitably the consequence of occupation and domination and is an enduring part of the cycle of violence."

At the same time as atrocities are being committed, needs are going unmet closer to home. Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of the venerable Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, addressed a huge crowd at the Washington National Cathedral in March, 2007 (reported in Sojourners Magazine): "[If] there are billions of dollars and then billions more available to bomb Baghdad, but never enough to rebuild New Orleans, an American city, parts of which still look like a Third World country a year and a half after Katrina, our soul is in danger. How can you bomb and then rebuild Baghdad and neglect New Orleans, that great city that taught our souls how to sing...?"

Tree which held survivors above the floodwaters, Lower 9th
As a part of the U.S. Committee for the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence, I have visited with Katrina victim/survivors. That catastrophe should have taught us so many lessons -- about wealth and poverty, about environmental protection and prevention, about political decision-making and about emergency management. The following is a poem I wrote following that visit:

Big -- but Not So Easy

On a day that feels like early Spring,
We wander through
The French/Spanish/Cajun/African étouffée that is New Orleans.
Catfish, redfish, crawfish, shrimp; beignets and chicory coffee;
Jazz and zydeco drifting from strip clubs,
Bubbling forth from sidewalk buskers.

But chilling stories are stored in memory.
Of a five-year-old plunging into dark water
To save a two-year-old.
Of stiff hands clinging for four long days,
To the limbs of an ordinary tree, in the middle of a field,
That looks nothing like Mount Ararat.
X’es mark doors where dead were found*
Or not found or never found, on the streets
Where the American Dream became Desolation Row.

We hear of houses that now can't be moved,
Because the water moved them first;**
Or liens placed on lawns whose rightful mowers
Languish in Mobile or Memphis;
Housing being razed that the flood had left untouched;
Teachers fired, while their students need --
More than ever -- to learn.

As in Denmark of old,
Something is rotten -- time is way out of joint.
Where is the system that was supposed to protect
The Lower Ninth’s inalienable rights
To life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

"But those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength;
They will mount up with wings of eagles.
They will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint."

A grandmother
Drives five hours with a bad back to do bible school.
Out-of-towners -- strangers and schoolkids --
Seek their own souls in service. Their handwriting
Is left on the roughed-in wall of a rebuilding church:
"My God is a rock in a weary land, and a shelter in a time of storm"

        And a sign on a stinky FEMA trailer reads: 
        “I am home/ I will rebuild./ I am New Orleans.”

* Emergency personnel placed inscriptions on the exterior of homes inspected as the waters receded. A large “X” showed, in its four quadrants, the date, agency inspecting, number of human beings found, the number of pets. These inspections, hastily done, were often inaccurate. Later visits revealed the remains of those who had reached the attic fleeing the water, or even, in a few cases, survivors.

**As a part of the recovery effort, the City of New Orleans will demolish and remove a property-owner’s unsalvageable home, unless it has been shifted by the floodwaters onto his property from elsewhere and is not owned by the resident.

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